Skip to Content
Download as PDF

Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 144, Issue 26

Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker


THE SENATE

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Senate met at 2 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.

Prayers.

[Translation]

Afghanistan—Fallen Soldiers

Silent Tribute

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, before we proceed, I would ask you to rise and observe one minute of silence in tribute to Gunner Jonathan Dion, Warrant Officer Hani Massouh, Corporal Éric Labbé, Trooper Richard Renaud and Corporal Étienne Gonthier, who were killed recently while serving their country in Afghanistan.

Honourable senators then stood in silent tribute.

(1405)

[English]

SENATORS' STATEMENTS

The Late Dr. Lewis Perinbam, O.C.

Hon. Donald H. Oliver: Honourable senators, I rise today to honour Dr. Lewis Perinbam, who passed away on December 12, 2007.

Dr. Perinbam was instrumental in helping to build our nation's reputation in international development through his involvement and great achievements with many organizations.

His distinguished career in the Public Service of Canada led to his work with various organizations, including the World Bank and UNESCO. He was the founding executive director of the Canadian University Service Overseas, or CUSO, and served for several years as the executive director of the World University Service of Canada. As a student I actively participated in both of those organizations.

In 2003, Dr. Perinbam was elected to chair the Commonwealth of Learning's Board of Governors.

Among his many awards, Dr. Perinbam was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1998. The citation described him as "one of this country's most outstanding visionaries in the field of international development."

In addition to his great strides in international development, Dr. Perinbam also worked hard to promote employment equity. He chaired the 2000 Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service. The task force's action plan entitled "Embracing Change in the Federal Public Service," commonly known as the "Perinbam Report," was intended to:

. . . transform the public service into an institution that reflects all Canada's citizens and attracts them to its service to play a part in shaping the Canada of tomorrow.

The report recognized that:

. . . in a world of many cultures, Canada is particularly fortunate to have a population that is, in many ways, a microcosm of that world. It is a source of strength of the sort possessed by few other countries.

Dr. Perinbam was well aware of the powerful strength inherent in our nation's diversity. However, in spite of his efforts to reflect that diversity in the workplace, the hiring of visible minorities at the federal level has recently slipped backwards. What is more, this is happening as the number of new Canadians in the labour market continues to grow.

My hope is that we will not lose sight of his vision but continue to work towards ensuring that our nation's diversity is reflected in its public service.

Honourable senators, Dr. Perinbam will be missed by members of the international development community, as well as advocates for employment equity. I know his influence will continue to be felt at home and abroad for many years to come.

At this time, I also offer my condolences to his wife, Nancy Garrett, and to the rest of his family.

The Honourable Terry M. Mercer

Recovery from Illness

Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Honourable senators, I cannot tell you how happy I am to be standing here in my place once again. After being away for nearly seven months, I know I am lucky to be here to tell you what happened in the intervening period.

After my second knee replacement last spring, I suffered a severe case of septicemia, which resulted in an almost complete shutdown of my major bodily functions. More than a month was spent in the hospital, half of which was in the intensive care unit. I lost 34 pounds in 14 days — not a weight loss program I recommend. It took months afterwards to heal and I received further care at my home. Needless to say, I do not recall much of my early days in the hospital. I know that I was attended to by some of the best doctors, nurses and health care professionals in the world. That help, along with the prayers and love of my close family and friends, kept me alive.

Honourable senators, the wonders of modern medicine are now very clear to me as I have the ability to be here today and even to walk. I cannot begin to describe the terrible moments which occurred at the beginning of the infection, because I was in a coma. Some of you may think I have been in a coma for some time. I do know, however, that without the thoughts and prayers of my family, friends and all of you, I would not be here.

(1410)

I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank my wife, Ellen, who has had probably the worst year of her life. My wife lost a brother-in-law, a sister and a brother, and almost me, in the space of 11 months. I thank her for her dedication and love. I thank my son, Michael, my daughter-in-law, Lisa, and the rest of my family, to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude and love. Also, I shall be forever in debt to the medical staff at the Queensway Carleton Hospital and to my physiotherapist, Brenna Casey, for helping to put me back together. To them I say, thank you.

Honourable senators, it was such a delight to read your many notes and cards, and to receive gifts from some of you. It seems terrible that it takes such an incident to be reminded of how much your friends can mean to you and what they can do to keep you going. Please know that all of your thoughts and prayers were greatly appreciated. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that.

To those of you in the Conservative caucus who sent me kind notes, I promise to not quote back your words to you in the thrust of debate. I remember them kindly and I appreciate the thoughts.

Honourable senators, there is a great comment by Tennessee Williams — and I quote:

Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.

I would not be here today without those friends and family who have made me what I am today and have kept me here another day to tell the story.

Yesterday, in the Special Senate Committee on Aging, Senator Stratton quoted former actress Bette Davis when she was asked about aging. She said that "old age is not for sissies." Honourable senators, she is absolutely right, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

Afghanistan—Fallen Soldiers

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, on December 14, the Senate adjourned for the Christmas holidays so that we could enjoy our families. During this time, Canadian soldiers bravely represented us all over the world, and especially in Afghanistan. Since December 14, Canada has lost four more brave soldiers in Afghanistan. On January 23, Canadians mourned the loss of Étienne Gonthier, a 21-year-old combat engineer in the 5th Combat Engineer Regiment based in Valcartier, Quebec. His death was the result of a roadside bomb in the volatile Panjwaii district of Kandahar. His work in Afghanistan has made us all very proud.

On January 15, Trooper Richard Renaud, a 26-year-old soldier from Alma, Quebec, died when his armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb. He is survived by his pregnant wife and 4-year-old stepson. His family remembers a proud soldier who wanted to make a difference in the world. May the example he set and his dreams of making a difference in the world pass on to his children. His work in Afghanistan has made us proud.

On January 6, Canadians mourned the loss of Warrant Officer Hani Massouh, a 41-year-old career infantryman on his sixth mission overseas. His colleagues recall a man with an infectious sense of humour who made sure they had all they needed in the trenches. He leaves behind his wife, Nathalie, and daughter, Laila. He had decided that this was to be his last mission. His friends recalled that he wanted to take on another adventure — that is, taking care of his family and daughter. His work in Afghanistan has made us proud. He died that day alongside 31-year-old Corporal Éric Labbé of Rimouski, Quebec, when their armoured vehicle rolled over in rough terrain near Kandahar. They both belonged to the Royal 22nd Regiment. Corporal Labbé's family said that Eric was doing what he loved and that they are very proud of him. His work in Afghanistan has made us proud.

On December 30, Canada lost 27-year-old Gunner Jonathan Dion, from Quebec, when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb just west of Kandahar. He served in the 5th Régiment d'artillerie légère du Canada. He will be remembered for his distinctive smile and his joie de vivre. His family said that he loved being a soldier and being in the company of his brothers and sisters in arms. His work in Afghanistan has made us proud.

Honourable senators, I am reminded of something that I heard at the opening of our National War Museum in May 2005: "The reality of war includes uncertainty, human sacrifice, and destruction, but it also includes hope, perseverance and rebuilding. The desire is that Canada will be part of a future that heals, rather than destroys."

(1415)

These words take on greater meaning every time we mourn the loss of our military men and women.

Since 2002, 78 Canadian military personnel and one diplomat have died in Afghanistan. I rise today in respect for their work, lives and sacrifice.

I also recognize and honour the contribution and dedication of 2,500 Canadian soldiers working to rebuild and secure Afghanistan. We pray that our soldiers may come home safely to their families, friends and Canada.

New Brunswick

Bathurst—Highway Casualties Involving High School Basketball Team—Silent Tribute

Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool: Honourable senators, it is with a very heavy heart that I rise today to pay tribute to the seven young athletes from Bathurst High School who, along with the wife of the driver of their van, lost their lives in a tragic traffic accident near Bathurst, New Brunswick, in the late evening of Friday, January 12.

[Translation]

Seven of the eight victims were members of the Bathurst High Phantoms, the senior basketball team that had just played in Moncton, and they were minutes away from their waiting families. The van was being driven by the teens' coach, whose wife and daughter were also aboard.

[English]

The bad weather and the slippery roads that night caused the van to lose traction and crash violently into an oncoming tractor-trailer. That evening, fate claimed the lives of 15-year-old Nicholas Kelly, 16-year-old Nick Quinn, 17-year-old Javier Acevedo, 17-year-old Justin Cormier, 17-year-old Daniel Hains, 17-year-old Nathan Cleland and 17-year-old Codey Branch. Elizabeth Lord, a 51-year-old teacher at one of Bathurst's elementary schools and wife of the van's driver, also lost her life.

[Translation]

The driver of the van, Wayne Lord, Elizabeth Lord's husband, survived his injuries, as did his daughter Kaitlyn and two other members of the Phantoms, Bradd Arseneau and Tim Dailey.

This tragedy is particularly disturbing to those of us who are parents and grandparents, honourable senators, because we know what it is like to dread losing a child or grandchild. When a tragedy like this one strikes a community as tightly knit as Bathurst, nobody can ignore the pain of those who have lost a child, a grandchild or a friend, of the man who lost his wife, of the child who lost her mother, or of those who lost their teacher. Nobody.

[English]

Honourable senators, I have lived in Bathurst a great many years, and I have taught some of the parents of the victims. I expected the outpouring of support that began that night and continues to this day, fuelled by kindness and love from all over New Brunswick and Canada. Bathurst is wounded, yet has become an even tighter-knit community since January 12.

All should take comfort in knowing that compassion and selflessness can still be relied upon to see us through the heart-wrenching loss of loved ones. Our thoughts are with the families that were torn apart that fateful night. May the victims rest in peace, and may they keep watch over their loved ones.

[Translation]

Let us honour their memory, honourable senators.

[English]

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, the death of these young students is a tragedy that has deeply wounded the province of New Brunswick and the whole country. I ask leave to observe a minute of silence in remembrance of this great loss.

Honourable senators then stood in silent tribute.

(1420)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Hon. Yoine Goldstein: Honourable senators, you may have noticed that I am on the left side of the house for the first time, but on the right side of the house for the first time. I leave the directional definitions to my friends and colleagues.

We are delighted to have Senator Mercer back with us. We are also pleased to have Senator Prud'homme back with us after a number of months of absence. I hope and I assume that we will have occasion to cross swords again shortly, honourable senators, and I look forward to it.

Honourable senators, on January 27, 1945, the Soviet army marched through the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp liberating the pitiful few remaining prisoners. Shortly before this date, the Nazis had taken 60,000 of those prisoners on a forced death march and 15,000 of them perished on that march. So anxious were the Nazis to exterminate as many Jews as possible that, in the full knowledge that they would be defeated within months, they nevertheless determined that it was appropriate to continue killing them.

Because Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, the United Nations has designated that day each year as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

Memory, honourable senators, is the measure that humans use as a yardstick to evaluate and rationalize current human experiences. By that yardstick, no event or phenomenon in human history can resemble, even remotely, the magnitude of the snuffing out of 6 million innocent lives whose only transgression was that they were born Jewish or that one of their grandparents was Jewish, according to the infamous Nuremberg Laws.

The number, 6 million, cannot be conceived by rational thought. The quantity of devastation, of inhumanity, of viciousness cannot be measured by any reasonable standard.

Nothing in human experience can be equated with the Holocaust. However, the memory of the Holocaust has not prevented or even influenced continuing human experience. Rwanda, although not on the same scale as the Holocaust, was genocide. Ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia was akin to genocide. Certainly, the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings in Darfur is genocide.

Therefore, having a single day each year to commemorate the Holocaust cheapens human experience. The memory of the Holocaust and subsequent horrors should be with us each day, each hour, each minute. Perhaps then, but unfortunately only then, will humanity accept the proposition that every life is equal to every other life and that each human being is a world created by God, in God's image and entitled to live a full and complete life.

We as parliamentarians, honourable senators, have the obligation to be in the forefront of the effort to ascribe equal value to everyone because, if we do not, who will? If we do not start now, then when?


ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

Canada Transportation Act

Bill to Amend—First Reading

The Hon. the Speaker informed the Senate that a message had been received from the House of Commons with Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (railway transportation).

Bill read first time.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?

On motion of Senator Comeau, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading two days hence.

(1425)

Urban Modernization and Business Development Bank Bill

First Reading

Hon. Jerahmiel S. Grafstein presented Bill S-226, An Act to amend the Business Development Bank of Canada (municipal infrastructure bonds) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.

Bill read first time.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?

Senator Grafstein: Honourable senators, with leave of the Senate and notwithstanding rule 57(1)(f), I move that the bill be read the second time at the next sitting of the Senate.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

On motion of Senator Grafstein, with leave of the Senate and notwithstanding rule 57(1)(f), bill placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading at the next sitting of the Senate.

Foreign Service Officers

High Attrition Rate—Notice of Inquiry

Hon. Sharon Carstairs: Honourable senators, I give notice that, two days hence:

I will inform the Senate as to the reasons for the high attrition rate of foreign service officers and others who serve in Canadian embassies abroad, most particularly the failure of this and past governments to recognize the rights of the partners of these employees.

Implementation of Federal Accountability Act

Progress Report—Notice of Inquiry

Hon. Donald H. Oliver: Honourable senators, I give notice that two days hence:

I will draw the attention of the Senate to the progress that has been made on the implementation of the Federal Accountability Act. In so doing, I will highlight the status of key measures of the act and underscore the importance of this act to improving responsibility and accountability in our government.


[Translation]

QUESTION PERIOD

Finance

Aid Program to Manufacturing and Forestry Sectors

Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette (Leader of the Opposition): I would like to wish all honourable senators a happy and productive year, and assure them that we will work very hard for the betterment of Canadians.

On the topic of working hard for Canadians, the Prime Minister announced his aid plan for the manufacturing sector, in which 132,000 jobs were lost in 2007. After this project, or plan, was made public, he was severely criticized by the provincial premiers. Aside from the fact that this aid program seems to be ill-conceived, it is particularly distressing that the Prime Minister has made the aid dependent on his staying in power as Prime Minister. In a joint press release, the Ontario and Quebec premiers said this yesterday:

. . . the amount is not adequate and this federal payment should be introduced into Parliament immediately and not be subject to the approval of a federal budget.

I would like to ask the Leader of the Government what her government plans to say in reply to the premiers of these two provinces, which make up two thirds of Canada, and which are the most affected by the crisis in the manufacturing sector.

[English]

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Secretary of State (Seniors)): I wish to echo the good wishes of the honourable senator for a happy, healthy and fruitful 2008.

(1430)

Honourable senators, with regard to the question about the manufacturing sector, job losses in some of these sectors are of great concern not only to the government but to us all. No one likes to see anyone lose their job. This problem is particularly severe in so-called one-industry towns.

Our government recognizes that the manufacturing sector has severe challenges, and we are taking steps to help these industries. Manufacturers and processors are already benefitting from the accelerated capital cost allowance which allows manufacturers to write off their investments and equipment over two years to encourage new economic investment and to create jobs.

We also increased the capital cost allowance for buildings and computers used in manufacturing and processing. In the fall economic statement, we made an immediate 1-per-cent reduction in the corporate income tax rate in 2008, and this reduction will be followed by ongoing reductions that will bring the rate down to 15 per cent by 2012. With these reductions, Canada's corporate tax rate will become the lowest among the major industrial countries.

With regard to the Prime Minister's announcement of the community development trust of $1 billion to help vulnerable communities dependent on a single employer or communities that have sectors under particular pressure, we believe this program is one these communities can access.

With regard to the honourable senator's specific recommendation to the Prime Minister in terms of the immediate access to these funds, I will bring those recommendations to his attention.

[Translation]

Senator Hervieux-Payette: Honourable senators will recall that in the Speech from the Throne a paragraph of about fine lines was dedicated to the manufacturing, tourism and forestry sectors. Considering the crisis currently facing Quebec, in particular, and Ontario, one might have expected the Conservative government — with a surplus of $12 billion — to introduce a bill yesterday that all political parties would be quick to support in order to offer our workers some hope.

Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate assure us, in view of the difficulties facing these workers who are without work and have lost all hope in a government that refuses to grant this assistance immediately, that she will convey this message to the Prime Minister, and that he will respond immediately with the necessary assistance, knowing that we will cooperate in passing such a bill?

[English]

Senator LeBreton: As I said in my first answer, I believe that all of us, starting with the Prime Minister, are concerned about job losses in the manufacturing sector. With regard to the immediate access to funds, the honourable senator made a compelling case, which I will make to the Prime Minister.

There are other areas, such as the announcements made last week by Minister Prentice and Minister Michael Fortier, where significant funds will be expended in Quebec — for example, in the aerospace industry — and other regions of the country. However, that measure does not solve the problem of people who have lost jobs, especially in single-industry towns where they depend on one manufacturer.

I take the honourable senator's pleas as notice. I, for one — and I am sure other members of the government as well — wish to do anything possible to alleviate any difficulties felt immediately by those who have lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector.

[Translation]

Senator Hervieux-Payette: Honourable senators, you will recall that, before Christmas, in light of the serious health problems of some Ontario citizens, we agreed to pass a bill in 48 hours. Thus, it does not take long to pass a bill, when that is the will of Parliament. There is a connection between the health of those people in Ontario before Christmas and the workers in the regions right now. When one does not have the dignity that comes with earning a living, it does not take long for health problems to develop.

(1435)

In the same vein, I would also like the Leader of the Government to remind the Prime Minister that the formula used to provide assistance to the province of Quebec in this case does not in any way reflect the percentage of job losses in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. There is, in fact, an $80 million shortfall. Not only will we not get the money immediately, but whatever we do get will be calculated on a per capita basis. If memory serves, compensation is provided when there is a grain or wheat problem, if an international situation penalizes our producers. Yet, as far as I know, there has never been any per capita distribution in that sector, or to provide assistance to any sector. The same is true for fisheries. When a problem arises in the Maritime provinces and assistance is provided to fishers, it is not a per capita distribution.

Now, we have a situation where Quebec is facing a major job loss crisis. Tax credits and tax cuts are not the answer, because people who are almost bankrupt do not pay income tax. Mark my words: the formula used to calculate the amount of the aid package must be changed and the amounts adjusted, and this must be done now. Could the Leader of the Government give us the assurance that she will convey this message to the head of the government?

[English]

Senator LeBreton: Senator Hervieux-Payette makes a compelling case and cites many examples that are absolutely true.

As I said in my first and second answers, I would be very happy to pass along the honourable senator's recommendations to the Prime Minister and to cabinet colleagues.

Natural Resources

Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories—Medical Radioisotope Supply—Safety Risks of Resuming Production

Hon. Sharon Carstairs: Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

On December 11, we all became very concerned and somewhat alarmed about the failure to produce sufficient isotopes for medical testing for Canadians, Americans, as well as people living in other countries. When the issue was raised with our deputy leader, I immediately offered to be the critic for that bill.

However, honourable senators, and particularly to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, I did not know then and I did not learn until two hours ago, when Linda Keen told the House of Commons committee, that Chalk River was at risk, a risk that was 1,000 times higher than international standards.

I should like to know from the Minister of Natural Resources — because presumably in his inappropriate conversations with Ms. Keen leading up to this legislation, she must have told him — why we were not told that information in this chamber.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Tkachuk: She could have told us. She made that up.

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Secretary of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators I just heard, as I was coming into the chamber, about the testimony of the former president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. I believe all of us heard the particular position of Ms. Keen in December. There was a bill brought forward that was supported by all members of all parties in both Houses. Every single parliamentarian overruled the decision of the former president.

With respect to her testimony this morning, which I shall have to review, obviously Ms. Keen had an opportunity to inform Parliament of the views that she expressed today because she appeared, as we know, in the Committee of the Whole in this place as well as in the House of Commons.

Therefore, all I can say in response to the question of Senator Carstairs is that the decision of Parliament was the right decision. The severe shortage of radioisotopes would not only cause severe medical difficulties to people in this country, but also around the world, not to mention our reputation as a supplier to other jurisdictions. We made the right decision. The medical isotope supply has now been replenished.

With respect to the testimony of the former president this morning, to be perfectly honest, I was surprised that she had not come forward with that information previously when she appeared before both Houses.

(1440)

Senator Carstairs: Honourable senators, it is not, frankly, the responsibility of the former president to have brought that information into this chamber. We had two ministers sit in front of us — two ministers who clearly knew what these risks were, and two ministers who did not tell us what those risks were. We were here trying to examine the balance of risks. We all supported the bill because we knew of the need for isotopes and we were assured by Minister Lunn over and over, through a series of questions — because I reviewed the testimony today — that there was no risk.

We now learn we were not meeting international standards. When did Minister Lunn learn that we were not meeting international standards?

Senator LeBreton: First, honourable senators, Minister Lunn and Minister Clement appeared before us. I feel confident that this testimony that Ms. Keen has given today was the first time they have heard it from her. There are conflicting reviews from people who work for AECL, in terms of their opinion of the safety of the facility.

Today the former president put forward testimony that none of us had heard her say before. We will have an opportunity to assess the validity of that testimony. Minister Lunn, Minister Clement, the government and Parliament all acted in the best interests of the country and its citizens — in particular, those in need of the use of medical isotopes, not only in this country but around the world. As I mentioned earlier, our reputation around the world was salvaged.

Senator Carstairs: I have a final supplemental question to the honourable minister. Michael Burns, the former chairman of the board of AECL, has indicated in media publications that he knew of a potential isotope problem in August of 2007.

If he knew of this potential difficulty in August of 2007, why was the government blissfully ignorant of this isotope shortage until November 30?

Senator LeBreton: This is the question, because clearly AECL and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission operate at arm's length.

Senator Robichaud: Since when?

Senator LeBreton: It seems obvious that not only did they not talk to each other, but they obviously did not inform the ministers. As the Prime Minister has said on many occasions —

Senator Mercer: How do we know that?

Senator LeBreton: — there is enough blame to go around to all sides involved in this situation. The important thing is to fix the problem and have AECL and the nuclear commission operating properly and responsibly, and that we never again face a situation where the health, safety and lives of Canadians and people around the world are affected by a decision that was obviously not communicated to others.

Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Honourable senators, I have a supplementary question. Since the government seems to be so concerned about the health and safety of people around the world, I am a little concerned about the health and safety of the people in this country.

Chalk River is just up the Ottawa River from where we sit today. If there were an accident at Chalk River, the natural flow of the air would be down the river valley, over this chamber and into the good residences of Ottawa, Gatineau and perhaps all the way down the river to Montreal.

Ms. Keen has testified to the risk 1,000 times over. What I want to know is this: Has a risk assessment been done? How many people's lives would be in danger? How many people would die if there were an accident at Chalk River? Has the government conducted a risk assessment? Has the cabinet reviewed it? If so, will the minister table that document in this chamber as soon as possible?

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator LeBreton: The most dangerous word in the English language is "if."

As Senator Keon has said, he has a cottage downriver from the Chalk River facility. Many people who are involved in the Chalk River facility believe strongly in the safety of the facility. There have been many articles written, especially by people who work at AECL, including former employees of AECL and others in the medical community who have been dealing with AECL.

(1445)

This is really a licensing issue. The whole dispute between the former president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and AECL was revealed —

Senator Mercer: It was safety.

Senator LeBreton: It was revealed here in testimony in this very chamber in response to questions by Senator Tkachuk. The issue was never a safety issue; it was a licensing issue.

Senator Fraser: It was about safety.

Senator LeBreton: It has been misinterpreted many times since, but with regard to the senator's specific question as to whether there has ever been a risk assessment done with special attention paid to Chalk River, I would be very happy to take that question as notice.

Senator Mercer: Honourable senators, I thank the leader for doing that.

I am still concerned. Though Senator Keon may indeed have a cottage within a stone's throw of the plant at Chalk River, that just reassures me of my wise decision to live in Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia.

I also wish to know whether or not petitions were brought to Minister Lunn, the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet prior to the legislation being brought forward in December.

By the way, knowing what honourable senators knew in December, if I had been here I would have voted in favour of the bill because of the isotope shortage. However, now that we have more information, I want to know whether the member of Parliament, Cheryl Gallant, in whose riding the Chalk River plant is located, presented petitions to the government concerning the health and safety of her constituents. Did Mr. O'Connor, the member for the adjacent riding, petition the minister, the Prime Minister or his colleagues in the cabinet concerning the residents of his constituency? Did Mr. Baird, the regional minister for Eastern Ontario, petition the Prime Minister or the minister on behalf of his constituents? Did Pierre Poilievre, who seems to have an opinion on everything, bring forward a petition on behalf of the constituents of his riding to protect the safety of their children and grandchildren? Did the member for Ottawa—Orleans, another Conservative, bring forward a petition to protect the good residents of Ottawa—Orleans?

Honourable senators, now that the facts are slowly seeping out from under the door of the Prime Minister's Office, information that they seem to want to keep away from the public, what protection is there for the permanent residents of the Ottawa Valley, and for those of us who are part-time residents of the Ottawa Valley, if there is an accident? This concerns me.

The honourable leader says it is a licensing issue; Ms. Keen says it is a safety issue. Her job is head of the safety commission. When we see the word "safety" in an arm's-length agency, we should be paying close attention and not interfere.

Following on the information we received in December, it looked like an emergency. I think that we need more information. I want to know whether those members of Parliament stood up for their constituents.

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for that question. Actually, when the former president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission appeared before the Committee of the Whole in the Senate, she obviously did not think this was a safety issue because they had gone ahead and issued licences without making inspections. Therefore, if she was so concerned about safety, why did they not undertake inspections before they issued the licences?

To respond to the honourable senator's specific question, no, I am not aware of any petitions because, for most of us who have lived in the Ottawa Valley, the Chalk River nuclear facility has never been, as far as I know, a cause for great concern in terms of the safety of the nuclear reactor. How would people present petitions to the government when no one was aware, and probably still is not, that it was a safety issue?

(1450)

People usually submit petitions when there is a clear and present danger, and nothing in this dispute indicates that there is an emerging safety issue.

Hon. Pierrette Ringuette: Honourable senators, I have a question on the same issue. Last night, a CBC report indicated that the third pump that was required for security and safety was in place but not connected to the other two pumps. Half of the connecting job has been done in the last month while the plant was still producing isotopes. Go figure.

As I watched that report last night, I said to myself, "The current government has fired the wrong person." Speaking of energy and power, some people involved in this issue were on a power trip. They had been warned for a year and a half to connect that third generator, and then they did it in one month while producing isotopes.

I should like to have from the minister and her colleagues in cabinet an explanation of why those people were able to do half the required job in one month, while still producing isotopes, when they could not do it in a year and a half.

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I thank the senator for that question. The fact is that the commission had reissued the licence, and it was only during a routine shutdown of the reactor that they realized the back-up pump had not been connected. That backup pump, as we heard in testimony, was to bring the facility up to new world standards to withstand earthquakes.

The honourable senator's question is valid. I shall take it as notice. I am sure that AECL would welcome the opportunity to respond to why the pump was hooked up so quickly when it seemed to be an issue in the fall.

[Translation]

Intergovernmental Affairs

Quebec City—Four Hundredth Anniversary—Invitation to Queen

Hon. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell: Honourable senators, before I put my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, I would like to extend best wishes to all my colleagues in the Senate, particularly Quebec senators, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. I hope this year will be filled with joy, pride and celebrations of the past, present and, above all, the future.

First, I would like to quote from an article published in The Globe and Mail on Monday, December 17, 2007.

[English]

Both local and provincial governments long ago asked the federal government to invite the Queen. Quebec intergovernmental affairs minister Benoît Pelletier confirmed this on Radio-Canada. He said:

We told the Canadian government about our wish to have the Queen present at the 400th-anniversary celebrations.

[Translation]

Could the leader explain her government's decision to not invite Her Majesty, the Queen of Canada, to Quebec City's 400th-anniversary celebrations?

[English]

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Secretary of State (Seniors)): I wish to thank the honourable senator for that question.

There have been several news reports about whether the Queen was invited. The Queen indicated that she has no intention to travel to Canada in 2008. It seems that some people have suggested after the fact that they wanted her to come even though she indicated she was not planning to. Other than that, I have no specific information to give.

(1455)

There seems to be some question about whether an invitation was formally submitted. I am not aware that one was. In any event, Buckingham Palace indicated that the Queen has no intentions of being in Canada in the year 2008.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: I will say this in English because I find it to be exasperating. The Queen saying to any country or to the world that she does or does not wish to travel to a place does not seem to be the routine procedure. I believe there is a proper procedure for her to accept or decline an invitation. My question was this: Was she invited?

[Translation]

Honourable senators, on December 4, members of the Conservative caucus declared, here in this chamber, that the position of Governor General of Canada was a monarchical relic. Unfortunately, we did not receive an official apology for this unwarranted remark. Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate assure us that her government does not consider Her Majesty, our Queen, a relic?

[English]

Senator LeBreton: I have absolutely no knowledge of that. Anyone who looks at the present Governor General would realize that she is not an old relic.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: May I read from Hansard? I do not think I should mention the honourable senator's name.

Senator Mercer: Go ahead.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: From Hansard of December 4, 2007:

This motion, while making reference to constitutional imperatives, undermines those very imperatives in which it pretends to cloak itself. Moreover, it invites the Governor General — a monarchical relic who has wisely and not without considerable forethought been relegated to that of figure-head — and her successors to usurp that which is the sole privilege of the democratically elected Prime Minister who appointed her. The motion also seeks to make the Senate complicit in that process.

A "monarchical relic" are the words of one of your senators.

Senator Mercer: Shame!

Senator LeBreton: Thank you, senator. I am still not aware of the incident. As Leader of the Government in the Senate, I am responsible in Question Period to answer questions related to the policies and the directives of the government.

I do not want to answer for everyone in the Senate or answer for what they may have said at some point in time. It is a matter of freedom of speech and I do not want to speak to that. I have no comment to make. I am not in a position to respond to this issue because, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, I answer for the government.

[Translation]

Delayed Answers to Oral Questions

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I have the honour to table responses to oral questions raised by Senator Callbeck on October 24, 2007, concerning veterans affairs, extension of the Veterans Independence Program; by Senator Milne on October 31, 2007, concerning Library and Archives Canada, hours of operation; by Senator Banks on November 14, 2007, concerning the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, the public inquiry and recommendations of third party adviser; by Senator Mahovlich on November 15, 2007, concerning public safety, crossing delays; by Senator Jaffer on November 27, 2007, concerning Africa, funding for malaria; by Senator Milne on November 27, 2007, concerning Health Canada, future of the Canada Health Network; by Senator Banks on December 4, 2007, concerning the National Capital Commission, Gatineau Park; by Senator Dallaire on December 4, 2007, concerning national defence, cost of living differential for the Canadian Forces; by Senator Jaffer on December 5, 2007, concerning foreign affairs, Omar Khadr; by Senator Dallaire on December 11, 2007, concerning national defence, recruitment of Canadian Forces personnel; by Senator Dallaire on December 11, 2007, concerning national defence, right of troops to talk to the media; and by Senator Trenholme Counsell on December 13, 2007, concerning recommendation 73 of the report Out of the Shadows at Last.

Veterans Affairs

Extension of Veterans Independence Program

(Response to question raised by Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck on October 24, 2007)

The Veterans Independence Program (VIP) was introduced as the "Aging Veterans Program" in 1981. Over the years, it has assisted thousands of Veterans in remaining healthy and independent in their own homes by providing access to a comprehensive suite of services and benefits, including various home care services, such as housekeeping and grounds maintenance, ambulatory care, transportation and home adaptations. The services and benefits provided are based on an assessment of health needs and a supporting care plan.

As with all of the health care benefits available from the department, the primary recipient of the VIP services is the Veteran. Nevertheless, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) recognizes the valuable role played by primary caregivers, including spouses and common-law partners, by extending to them the same VIP housekeeping and/or grounds maintenance services the Veteran received prior to his/her death or admission to a health care facility. These primary caregivers are now eligible for a lifetime continuation of the services if they are required for health reasons and to remain independent at home.

In keeping with the Government's commitment to conduct "a complete review of Veterans' health services to ensure they meet the needs of our Veterans," Veterans Affairs Canada is undertaking the Veterans Health Services Review. This review is examining VAC's health care programs and services, giving particular attention to access to VIP services, including access for primary caregivers. In support of the review, VAC has engaged the Gerontological Advisory Council (GAC), composed of international experts on caring for the elderly. GAC is providing valuable advice to the team tasked with the review.

GAC's report Keeping the Promise — the Future of Health Benefits for Canada's War Veterans, released in November 2006, is helping to guide the development of proposals to help Veterans stay healthy and happy in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, by providing access to appropriate services and benefits when and where they are needed. The review is also considering the need for VIP housekeeping and grounds maintenance of those primary caregivers who are excluded under the current scheme.

Since taking office, our Government has added more than 12,000 new clients to the Program. As of March 2007, approximately 101,000 Veterans and primary caregivers (73,000 Veterans and 28,000 survivors) were receiving VIP across the country at a cost of about $287 million per year.

Library and Archives Canada

Hours of Operation

(Response to question raised by Hon. Lorna Milne on October 31, 2007)

Following the changes in its hours of service on September 1, 2007, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) received comments from many concerned researcher groups and client communities. Consequently, as of November 26, 2007, LAC reinstated the following hours of service at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa: early morning hours, all of the evening hours, and some additional weekend hours. In addition, LAC reinstated some of the hours during which services are provided by LAC staff.

Monday - Friday: 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

With LAC Service Staff available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturday - Sunday: 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Statutory Holidays: Closed

Users have access to the finding aids and collections located in these areas during all of the above hours.

Furthermore, LAC introduced a new and continuing process of public consultation on the delivery of its public services. This new public consultation process has two components: a Services Advisory Board, with the mandate to consider issues directly related to the services aspects of LAC's mandate, as well as regular public consultations on a variety of topics.

The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney

Alleged Cash Payments—Public Inquiry—Recommendations of Third Party Adviser

(Response to question raised by Hon. Tommy Banks on November 14, 2007)

On January 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper released the report by Professor David Johnston, the independent advisor appointed by the Government on the allegations of financial dealings between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney.

Public Safety

Border Services Agency—Crossing Delays

(Response to question raised by Hon. Francis William Mahovlich on November 15, 2007)

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is working proactively to ensure the timely processing of all travellers entering Canada. It is important to remember that the CBSA must balance its mandate of ensuring that the borders are safe and secure while facilitating the flow of legitimate goods and people and preventing the entry of contraband and inadmissible people.

The CBSA is responding to the increased pressure by:

  • adjusting employee shift schedules in many locations to ensure that the scheduling of staff aligns with the changing traffic patterns;
     
  • working with bridge and tunnel authorities to manage the traffic flows;
     
  • deploying additional resources where possible; and
     
  • working overtime where required to address the backlog and process travellers in a timely manner.

Also, the CBSA publishes regularly updated estimated wait times at many border crossings on its website in order to assist travellers in determining the optimum time to cross the border.

The CBSA invests on average $23 million per year to renew and improve its ports of entry and several measures are underway to assist the CBSA to deal with increased volumes and peak periods. These measures include continuing to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop better measures for monitoring border wait times. In addition, a review of technology and processing practices is being undertaken to determine if changes can be made to facilitate the flow of travellers.

The CBSA is also looking to expand alternate inspection programs. The aim of these programs, such as Free And Secure Trade (FAST) for commercial importers, carriers and their drivers as well as NEXUS for travellers, is to support moving pre-approved eligible goods and people across the border quickly and efficiently.

To meet this aim, all applicants are pre-screened in order to be deemed low-risk. It is important to note, however, while participants can expect expedited clearance, even pre-approved travellers and commercial clients remain subject to random verifications (secondary screening) at any time when entering Canada. In addition to system-generated random verifications, Border Services Officers' discretion may also result in a referral.

National participation in these programs represents about 12 per cent of the total commercial travel and 1.8 per cent of the total land border people processing. It is anticipated that as membership in these programs increases, cross-border travel will become more fluid.

Foreign Affairs

Africa—Funding for Malaria

(Response to question raised by Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer on November 27, 2007)

Canada's $105 million contribution to Initiative to Save a Million Lives will strengthen health systems by training frontline workers and delivering affordable health services to local communities. Some of the most critical of these life-saving health services are those focused on treating and preventing malaria in pregnant women and young children. Canada's funding to the Initiative will include support for the delivery of long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria and the delivery of drugs for the treatment of malaria.

The amount of money to be spent on malaria specific health services through the Initiative will depend on the burden of malaria in the country and the critical gaps in malaria specific services identified by the country. These factors are currently being analyzed in cooperation with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health within each country.

Canada's funding through the Initiative to Save a Million lives will be in addition to what is already allocated for malaria by the federal government. Canada has been the single largest country donor for insecticide-treated bednets, while the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is the largest multilateral donor. To date, CIDA has provided almost $530 million to the Global Fund, approximately one-quarter of which is channeled towards malaria.

Up to November 2007, Canada's support for malaria prevention programs in Africa through the Red Cross and UNICEF has delivered over 4.5 million bed nets. It is conservatively estimated that these nets will save over 120,000 lives. In early 2007, CIDA's Minister announced $20 million (over two years) for the Canadian Red Cross to facilitate the distribution of insecticide-treated bednets in Africa. This program will result in an additional 2.5 million nets being distributed, which are estimated to save over 70,000 lives.

Health

Future of Canada Health Network

(Response to question raised by Hon. Lorna Milne on November 27, 2007)

The Government of Canada appreciates Senator Milne's questions about the Canadian Health Network (CHN), a Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Grants and Contributions (Gs&Cs) program. The decision to terminate the CHN effective April 1, 2008, was made in a thoughtful and thorough manner in full light of the Agency's mandate to promote and protect the health of Canadians through leadership, partnership, innovation and action in public health in order to have healthier Canadians in a healthier world.

In response to the Health Canada Resources Allocation Committee decisions of December 2001 and Government-wide expenditure reviews set out in federal budgets 2004 and 2005 and 2007, PHAC was required to identify reductions in Gs&Cs programs of $16.7 million for 2007-08 and ongoing (8.2 per cent of total Gs&Cs). As a result of the reduction exercise, a decision was made to end the CHN to help meet this savings requirement. This decision is in line with the Agency's mandate, plans and priorities, as well as the role the Agency's website, www.phac-aspc.gc.ca, plays in public health.

PHAC's website is a major, trusted, credible, evidence-based public health information source in Canada and around the world. Since its inception three years ago, the website has grown and strengthened; in 2006, PHAC received nine million visitors who went to 24 million pages of information.

The 2007 PHAC Website Strategic Plan builds on the website's reputation and role in delivering quality health promotion and prevention information to both Canadian professionals and consumers. This new direction of the Agency's website is a natural evolution of its success, and is entirely consistent with PHAC's public health strategic priorities and demonstrates the Agency's ongoing commitment to sound money management, accountability and fiscal responsibility in the area of public health.

The Government of Canada has invested approximately $92.6 million since 2000-2001, including the current year, 2007-2008, in the CHN. Of that amount, $7M in Grants & Contributions will be terminated as of 2008-2009 recognizing the need for some flexibility during transition. The remaining annual expenditure, beginning in 2008-09, will be redeployed to achieve the original objectives of the CHN, including the provision of an integrated approach to public health information for both consumers and health professionals through a single, consolidated site.

The decision to terminate CHN will assist the Agency to meet 2008/2009 saving requirement of $16.7 million and ongoing yearly savings will be realized as well. By redirecting funds the Agency will provide an integrated approach to public health information to both consumers and health professionals through a consolidated website. We anticipate that this will result in a greater number of Canadians having access to quality and trusted health information to help them better understand the influences that determine health and make informed decisions for themselves, their families and communities.

The Agency will continue to work with all of its stakeholders to look for effective and innovative ways to provide Canadians with high quality, credible information through other means including the Agency's own website, as well as linkages to other health-related websites.

The Senator's second question seems to be referring to www.Healthycanadians.ca, which is a website portal designed to promote specific federal healthy lifestyle programs. The PHAC website, www.phac-aspc.gc.ca, will become a single consolidated website that provides public health information through an integrated approach. The Agency's website currently offers information on mental health problems and disorders. The topics covered include information on alcohol and drug use, physical/mental health interactions, suicide, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and violence and abuse, as well as, linkages to other health-related websites.

Regarding the environment and health, the Government of Canada recognizes that children's health is particularly vulnerable to environmental hazards and the Agency is involved in a variety of activities aimed at addressing environmental risks to children's health. While the PHAC provides many sources of valuable information on public health, the Agency looks forward to continuing a dialogue with stakeholders to help ensure the Agency's website provides quality health promotion and prevention information to Canadians.

National Capital Commission

Gatineau Park

(Response to question raised by Hon. Tommy Banks on December 4, 2007)

The Government is committed to ensuring the long-term protection of Gatineau Park.

Gatineau Park is included in the National Interest Land Mass (NILM). By itself, the NILM designation confirms the federal government's intention to hold the property in perpetuity because it is essential to the long-term vision of the capital. Also, through the 2005 Gatineau Master Plan, the National Capital Commission (NCC) has committed to plan and manage the Park with the utmost care, and to take actions that ensure the Park's long-term protection and sustainability. The Government is currently considering recommendations from the mandate review of the NCC to further strengthen the protection of the Park.

The boundary for Gatineau Park was fixed in 1997 and no properties within the Park have been sold since then. Further, since 2006, the NCC has been restricted in selling land, except for a few non-contentious surplus properties (none of which are in Gatineau Park).

That said, the Government recognizes that it has been necessary on occasions in the past for the NCC to accommodate minor property adjustments to correct titles or legal descriptions following a private landowner's survey. Also, under old agreements with the province, the NCC has transferred some property for roads and infrastructure.

The Government's objective in its mandate review response relating to Gatineau Park will be to achieve the right balance between protection of the Park, private owners' rights and management requirements of the NCC.

National Defence

Cost of Living Differential

(Response to question raised by Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire on December 4, 2007)

The Post Living Differential allowance helps stabilize the cost of living of Canadian Forces personnel and their families, no matter where they serve in Canada. This program has not been cancelled, and the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces remain firmly committed to supporting those CF members and their families living in regions of Canada where the cost of living is high. In fact, the Department has committed additional funds to the Post Living Differential this fiscal year.

The methodology used to determine Post Living Differential has recently been modernized to ensure that it successfully stabilizes regional differences in the face of changing economic realities. This is not a cost-cutting measure for the Department of National Defence, but rather ensures that the program functions as it was designed, which is to provide equitable payment to all CF personnel.

The Post Living Differential will now be calculated by comparing the cost-of-living in a given area to that in the National Capital Region. It will also be adjusted more frequently. The previous method of determining rates could not properly account for one-year spikes in costs such as housing-costs or fuel-costs. To rectify this, the new methodology determines rates annually, allowing for a more rapid response to market forces, and ensuring that the right CF members receive the correct amount of Post Living Differential allowance.

The spirit of the Post Living Differential program has not been changed, only its methodology. This necessary change will ensure that the financial resources of the program will be redistributed more evenly and to where they are needed most.

Foreign Affairs

United States—Release of Omar Khadr According to Provisions of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

(Response to question raised by Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer on December 5, 2007)

The Government is fully committed to ensuring that its actions comply with its international obligations. Omar Khadr was arrested in 2002 by US Forces in the context of his alleged involvement in the armed conflict in Afghanistan. He has been detained by the US, has remained under US jurisdiction continuously since then, and is now facing serious charges pursuant to US legislation.

The Canadian Government facilitated access to him by Canadian defence counsel and made arrangements for a courtesy call between Mr. Khadr and his family.

Canadian Government Officials have observed proceedings involving Mr. Khadr before the Military Commission and maintain a regular dialogue with his defence counsel. Canadian officials have also carried out regular welfare visits with Mr. Khadr and will continue to do so.

Mr. Khadr faces serious charges. Any questions regarding whether Canada plans to ask for the release of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo are premature and speculative as the legal process and appeals process are still ongoing.

National Defence

Recruitment

(Response to question raised by Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire on December 11, 2007)

The recruitment, training, and retention of Canadian Forces personnel remain key priorities for this Government, and are at the heart of the 'Canada First' defence plan. This Government has set a goal of increasing the size of the military to 75,000 Regular Force and 35,000 Reserve Force personnel over the long-term, and for the last four years, the Canadian Forces have met or exceeded their annual recruitment targets. Last fiscal year, the Canadian Forces grew by approximately 1,000 Regular and 1,300 Reserve Force personnel. The Canadian Forces are currently on track to meet this year's enrolment targets.

In the Department's latest Performance Report, it acknowledges that, due to higher than expected attrition rates and the significant resources required to train new Canadian Forces personnel, it will take longer than originally expected to meet their long-term growth objectives — despite their recruiting successes. As a result, the Canadian Forces are now looking to expand to 68,000 Regular Force and 26,000 primary Reserve Force by fiscal year 2011-2012.

With respect to the 'combat arms' trades, these occupations have experienced a significant proportion of overall net growth. While the time required for a new recruit to reach a state of operational readiness differs depending on their occupation, combat arms recruits usually become combat-ready within one year of enrolment.

While certainly a work in progress, our recruiting and training efforts continue apace. These efforts will ensure that the Canadian Forces continue to attract and retain talented and motivated personnel.

Right of Troops to Talk to Media

(Response to question raised by Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire on December 11, 2007)

There has been no change in policy. Canadian Forces regulations, which govern CF engagement with the media, have been in place since 1998. Of course, Canadian Forces members wishing to speak with the media are also governed by operational security considerations, the Privacy Act and the National Defence Act. It is worth noting that embedded media requests are the responsibility of the operational commander and are normally handled exclusively in theatre.

As has long been the case across government, there has always been the requirement to coordinate with the Privy Council Office on high-level issues. Departmental officials also coordinate communications activities with the Privy Council Office to ensure that they are aware of emerging national-level issues. This does not apply to most local, regional or operational issues.

This Government is committed to keeping members of Parliament and the Canadian public informed of the key role Canada is playing in Afghanistan. In addition to our regular communications activities, DND continues to participate in media technical briefings, as well as operational briefings to parliamentarians.

Public Safety

Correctional Services—State of Prisons—Harm Reduction Measures for Prisoners

(Response to question raised by Hon. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell on December 13, 2007)

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) makes harm reduction measures available to inmates. This includes Methadone Maintenance Treatment (for opioid-addicted inmates who meet the criteria for treatment). CSC also offers prevention education and treatment for infectious diseases. A primary focus of CSC is also on reducing the supply of drugs in its institutions.

The Government has taken action and is in the process of implementing its Mental Health Strategy in Canada's prisons. CSC's Executive Committee endorsed a comprehensive Mental Health Strategy in 2004 to address the mental health needs of offenders. CSC currently delivers limited mental health support services, mostly in the form of crisis intervention, which include: five treatment centres that offer in-patient psychiatric services; separate units at each of the five women's facilities with provisions for a higher level of staffing and therapeutic intervention; and some community arrangements for the intensive treatment of women offenders.

Consistent with the recommendations in the report, Out of the Shadows at Last, the comprehensive Mental Health Strategy will enhance assessment, treatment (including capacity at treatment centres) and training of employees.

In 2005, CSC received 30 million dollars over 5 years to implement the community component of the Strategy which includes strengthening the continuum of specialized mental health support and providing continuity of support from institutions to the community for discharge planning to assist in the release of these offenders to the community, and mental health professionals to provide direct support to offenders in the community.

In the 2007 budget, CSC received approximately 22 million dollars over two years to enhance primary care mental health services in institutions for the following: to hire additional psychiatrists and psychologists, mental health nurses and social workers; to improve the screening for mental health problems when offenders first come into the correctional system; to make enhancements to CSC's treatment centres, which house the most seriously mentally disordered offenders; and to provide training for mental health professionals and correctional employees in both treatment centres and regular institutions.

CSC recognizes the importance of training for employees who are required to work with mentally disordered offenders. Training programs that were developed for the Community Mental Health Initiative are being adapted for use in institutions and will be piloted this fiscal year.

On April 20, 2007, the Minister of Public Safety appointed an Independent Review Panel to examine CSC's operational priorities, strategies and business plans. On December 13, 2007, the Panel released its final report outlining 109 recommendations for the Government of Canada. Mental Health was one of the major focuses for the Independent Review Panel. The Government of Canada is concerned about the mental health needs of offenders, and this government is committed to providing reasonable and effective levels of mental health services for offenders.

(1500)

Answers to Order Paper Questions Tabled

Veterans Affairs—Agent Orange Ex Gratia Payments

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government) tabled the answer to Question No. 9 on the Order Paper—by Senator Downe.

Health—Palliative and End-of-Life Care

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government) tabled the answer to Question No. 11 on the Order Paper—by Senator Carstairs.

[English]

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I did not hear my name. I was wondering whether or not I missed it. I asked a question on May 9, 2007 regarding child care spaces created under government policies and I am wondering if the honourable senator would let me know when I will have an answer to that question.

Senator Comeau: We will be advising the honourable senator shortly. We will do an investigation on where the question is.


[Translation]

ORDERS OF THE DAY

Criminal Code

Bill to Amend—Third Reading

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Oliver, seconded by the Honourable Senator Andreychuk, for the third reading of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), as amended.

Hon. Joan Fraser: Honourable senators, I ask that the bill be read the third time now.

Motion agreed to and bill, as amended, read third time and passed.

Income Tax Act
Excise Tax Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Watt, seconded by the Honourable Senator Cordy, for the second reading of Bill S-214, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act and the Excise Tax Act (tax relief for Nunavik).—(Honourable Senator Comeau)

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, we are still preparing the remarks we wish to make about this bill. I would therefore like to adjourn the debate in my name.

On motion of Senator Comeau, debate adjourned.

[English]

Canada Pension Plan

Seniors' Benefits—Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Callbeck, calling the attention of the Senate to the thousands of Canadian seniors who are not receiving the benefits from the Canada Pension Plan to which they are entitled.—(Honourable Senator Robichaud, P.C.)

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Secretary of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today as the Secretary of State for Seniors to speak to Senator Callbeck's Notice of Inquiry.

For quite some time over the fall, I listened to Senator Callbeck's views and the views of several of her colleagues in the Senate. I would now like the opportunity to present my own views on behalf of our government. Over the fall, Senator Callbeck took it upon herself to spread misinformation to seniors about the benefits and services provided to them.

We should be well aware by now that Senator Callbeck and the Liberal Party are masters of misinformation.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.

Senator LeBreton: As such, they think they are scoring political points but in reality do a great disservice to our seniors.

The Director of Communications for the Prime Minister, Sandra Buckler, did something very unusual that never happened with the Director of Communications of the Liberal Party; she actually apologized.

An Hon. Senator: He did not do anything wrong!

Senator LeBreton: Her Liberal predecessor is on the record of doing many wrong things, senator. I will be happy to check the record.

Both in this chamber and, in the case of Senator Callbeck, on the pages of the Charlottetown Guardian, this information that does such a disservice to seniors was repeated.

It is truly a shame that instead of standing up for seniors, Senator Callbeck continues to criticize the record of this government and the work it has done, which is interesting because she does so without once acknowledging that her own Liberal government had over a decade of inaction on this file.

For that reason, I believe it is necessary to rise and respond to some of the comments that have been made and share with honourable senators some of the positive measures our government has taken to deliver services to Canadian seniors.

In her speech to the Senate on October 25, Senator Callbeck said she was "shocked to learn" that there are seniors not receiving the benefits they deserve. She cites information that ". . . in July 2005, there were as many 70,000 people over the age of 70 who paid into CPP. . ." and were not receiving benefits.

Honourable senators, the fact that some seniors are not receiving the benefits and services they deserve is a serious issue.

Seniors worked hard to make our public pension system a world leader. They deserve fair and easy access to services, especially information about their retirement benefits.

Ensuring that our seniors have easy and timely access to services and benefits is not a partisan issue. However, I must say it is difficult to sit here day after day and listen to Senator Callbeck and others talk about how this government is failing to ensure that our senior citizens receive the services they need, where and when they need them.

It is ironic that to back up her case, Senator Callbeck uses data from the year 2005, when her party — the Liberal Party — was still in office. That information ultimately is based on data from as early as 2002, again a period under Liberal leadership. This is the same period when the Liberal Party was ignoring seniors and failing to deliver on the important issues that matter to them, like improving access to their services and benefits, including the GIS.

(1510)

Honourable senators, the Guaranteed Income Supplement was introduced in 1967. Liberals had many, many years to introduce retroactivity for seniors who may not have been aware of their GIS benefits. The fact is they did not do so. In fact, in 1995, as part of their program review, they reduced retroactive payments on Old Age Security from five years to one year. It is unfortunate that we have so many revisionist historians in this chamber who cannot remember their own party's history.

Honourable senators, this Conservative government has done two more in the past years to help seniors than the Liberals did in thirteen years. We are making great progress toward improving services for seniors. Let me provide some examples. We have increased the number of points of service across the country. Service Canada now has 595 service centres across the country to help seniors with their benefits. We passed Bill C-36 to provide benefits to thousands of low-income seniors. Thanks to this bill, eligible low-income seniors need to apply only once to receive their GIS. They will no longer find themselves filling out forms year after year to apply for the GIS.

The Liberals had years to introduce legislation like Bill C-36 that would allow for more seniors to have access to the GIS. Instead, they chose to do nothing.

Our government has launched a comprehensive, nationwide print, radio and television advertising campaign to help seniors to apply for and receive benefits. We proactively contact seniors directly to inform them of their available benefits. Service Canada sent 268,000 application packages for the CPP and OAS in 2006 alone. I will be happy to share with honourable senators the 2007 numbers when we have them.

Every March we proactively contact seniors who do not file a tax return to remind them of their benefits. We have mobile services to better reach seniors where they live. We have fact sheets in over 20 languages that are available to seniors at Service Canada locations across the country. Seniors may call a special number, 1-800-277-9914, at any time to seek help and to receive information on benefits for which they are eligible. By informing Canadians proactively, we have ensured that 32,000 more Canadians aged 70 and older have applied for and are now receiving benefits.

The following is a small sample of our solid record: improving services for seniors; increasing benefits; strengthening the CPP; pension income splitting; investing in New Horizons; helping low-income seniors; creating a national body to give seniors a say in the issues that matter to them; providing $1 billion in tax relief for Canadian pensioners; improving the EI Compassionate Care Benefit; creating a First Nations on-reserve housing fund to allow more Aboriginal seniors to own their own homes; and working with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to deliver housing for seniors, including a $1.4 billion trust in last year's budget for affordable housing.

The Liberal record includes: research, reports, studies, more research, inaction, talk, talk, talk, study, study, study and more bureaucracy. We do not dismiss seniors, as Stéphane Dion did in a meeting with seniors last year when he rejected their suggestion to have a cabinet minister for the elderly and impatiently asked: "Please, do we have a better topic?"

The seniors I have met across this country are not looking for more talk, misinformed hysteria or commissioned studies. They are looking for real results to improve their lives and make their senior years as happy and productive as possible, which they deserve. The record is clear; this is a government that delivers more than it promises, instead of promising more than it can deliver.

I have been Secretary of State for Seniors for one year. Much has been done and much is yet to be done, but as Secretary of State for Seniors, I cannot and I will not serve as an apologist for Liberal inaction.

The fact that some seniors are encountering problems accessing government benefits is a real concern, and it should be a concern. At the same time, we are making progress. There is much more work to be done. Seniors' services cannot be improved through fear mongering, creating scandals, cherry-picking data and statistics, or launching letter-writing campaigns.

On behalf of our Conservative government, I promise to continue to be a voice for seniors and to deliver for them by cutting taxes, investing in programs that serve seniors, improving access to benefits and continuing to ensure our public pension system remains a world leader.

I was happy when the government increased the New Horizons by $10 million and when we launched a major study into the issue of elder abuse. It was more than simply a study because it was the major topic at the meeting of ministers responsible for seniors, which I attended in early December in Saskatoon. We are now focusing on a specific group that needs much attention, that is, senior single women who live at or below the poverty line.

Honourable senators, our Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Monte Solberg; our Minister of Health, Tony Clement; all our cabinet colleagues and I are committed to making the lives of our seniors as healthy, happy and prosperous as possible. They deserve no less. I thank honourable senators for their attention.

Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck: Will the honourable senator take a question?

Senator LeBreton: Yes.

Senator Callbeck: The honourable senator said in her speech that I used misinformation in the Senate. The statistics and information I used came from the office of the minister through the Access to Information Act. Would the honourable senator enlighten me as to what she means by "misinformation"?

Senator LeBreton: Obviously, when I was talking about misinformation, the honourable senator was attributing this information to this government when, in fact, it was her government. In my book, that is misinformation.

Senator Callbeck: How can the honourable senator say that is misinformation? The fact is that many of the latest statistics I received from Access to Information are from 2005, but they are the latest statistics available. I do not know how the honourable senator can class that as misinformation.

Senator LeBreton: The misinformation part is that the honourable senator, in her various writings and comments, attributed that failing to this government, and that was misinforming the public.

Senator Callbeck: I was saying that the government should be doing more. I presented the case for the number of seniors, about 26,000, who are receiving Old Age Security benefits but are not receiving Canada Pension Plan benefits, even though they paid into the fund, simply because they do not know enough.

In February 2007 I placed a number of questions on the Senate Notice Paper. One question was that when seniors apply for the OAS, are they informed of their eligibility for CPP.

I also asked the question of frontline personnel who have access to the personnel records. The answer was that Canadians may choose to apply for CPP at different ages and that Service Canada staff does not necessarily confirm whether someone applying for OAS is in receipt of or eligible for CPP benefits. The document went on to say that any frontline personnel with access to a senior's OAS file will also have access to an individual's CPP file.

My question is: If someone is inquiring about their Old Age Security pension, why could it not be a policy that they be told automatically about their eligibility for the Canada Pension Plan?

(1520)

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for the question. I believe I addressed that concern. Service Canada is a relatively new organization, but there has been an incredible increase in outreach to seniors, where they now are questioned and given advice.

It is true that people can apply for CPP earlier than the eligibility age of their old-age pension. Now that Service Canada has worked through its own growing pains, my understanding is that when seniors contact Service Canada or when they contact seniors, they present the whole range of potential pensions and services available. I will verify that information, but I believe that Service Canada now does that.

Senator Callbeck: If they are, that is a step in the right direction, because that is what we need — to make seniors more aware of the benefits they are entitled to.

Something else the honourable senator mentioned concerned targeted mailings. It is true that we are sending out targeted mailings. In 2006-07, 20,604 letters were mailed out to people aged 70 and older who do not receive the Canada Pension. However, according to my information, of that 20,604, only 1,877 applications were received, a response rate of about 9 per cent.

Apparently, in Quebec, they are more aggressive on this issue. They not only send out letters, they telephone people and visit them. Are we planning a greater outreach so that more people will become aware that they are entitled to this benefit, whether through phone calls or whatever? The Province of Quebec appears to do a tremendous job on this matter, compared to the federal government.

Senator LeBreton: There is no question they have a different system. However, through means such as mail-outs, television ads, inserts and notices, we are doing everything possible to inform senior citizens what they are entitled to.

We find that since we have embarked on this massive outreach in the last while, the take-up rate is increasing. Also, not only are seniors being informed, but their families are as well. In many cases, the families see these advertisements and notices that are posted.

In terms of the actual take-up, I do not know whether they have up-to-date figures, but I will take that question as notice.

Hon. Joan Fraser: I was encouraged to hear the honourable senator talk about the intensified efforts that are being made; it is hard to think of a more worthy area. However, as I listened to her talk about ads, letters, inserts and whatnot, it occurred to me that the necessary skill to benefit from those things is literacy.

As Senator Fairbairn has so faithfully reminded us over the years, not everyone in Canada is literate. I suspect that there is some natural correlation between people who are unaware of eligibility for various benefits, including the CPP, and literacy skills.

I echo Senator Callbeck's reference to the practice in my province, Quebec, where they visit people and telephone them. I ask the leader to take that practice as an added element of outreach that could be of inestimable benefit to the people who are entitled to these benefits.

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for the question. Of course, the literacy issue is important, especially in the more remote communities.

I asked that specific question of the Seniors Secretariat. In the Northern communities and through Service Canada, they have an outreach where they explain benefits. When they are illiterate, they cannot read these brochures, but there are many languages, including Aboriginal languages, where people who are working with these people — the elders and the people working with them in the various communities — have access to this information. They also deal directly with these people.

All this is to say that we are doing everything we can to reach as many people as we can. Unfortunately, some will be missed, but it will not be from lack of trying on behalf of the Seniors Secretariat and people in Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Health Canada.

Senator Callbeck: On the retroactivity, people living in Quebec pay roughly the same amount of contributions as the rest of Canada. However, the people of Quebec have retroactivity for five years, whereas for the rest of Canada it is one year unless there is an administrative error giving incorrect advice.

Has the department done any analysis of how much it would cost to have the same retroactivity provisions in CPP as in QPP?

Senator LeBreton: As I pointed out in my speech, the retroactivity for the Old Age Security was reduced by the previous government in 1995, from five years to one year. In terms of a study and comparison with what is happening in the Province of Quebec, I will take that question as notice.

On motion of Senator Robichaud, debate adjourned.

Business of the Senate

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Before I move the adjournment, earlier this afternoon I was asked by Senator Cordy regarding a delayed answer. Can I have permission to provide further information on the subject? It will take only a minute.

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Comeau: When Senator Cordy mentioned she had a question on child care spaces dating back to last year, May 9, it should have dawned on me that there is a provision whereby, if there is a prorogation of the house, those delayed answers to oral questions fall off the Order Paper.

I refer to a Speaker's ruling on the subject, dated May 9, 1996 that confirms this provision. There are no rules and provisions whereby we can bring forth questions from a previous session.

I suggest to Senator Cordy that if she asks the question again in Question Period, it would return to the Order Paper and we can respond to it as a delayed answer.

We will pass on the information to Senator Cordy.

The Senate adjourned until Wednesday, January 30, 2008, at 1:30 p.m.